Comdex (1979-2002): R.I.P.?

April 3, 2003
©2003 Rich Stillman, Waystation Partners

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Amy Wohl's newsletter this week brought news of the bankruptcy of Key3Media, the company that ran the Comdex trade shows for the past few years. Bankruptcy, of course, is not necessarily the end of the road. Key3Media has restructured debt and has announced the continuation of their flagship shows, including NetWorld+Interop, Seybold San Francisco, and Comdex Fall 2003, through the end of this year.

Unfortunately, finding venture capital to prop them up for another year was only the company's first obstacle. The second and more difficult question is whether Key3Media has learned enough from their prolonged near-death experience to make the changes that will allow these shows to survive. As I pointed out in an earlier article, I do not agree with the skeptics who say that large tech trade shows have run their course. As long as corporate IT management is faced with the rapid development of technologies that have a significant impact on their operations, shows like Comdex will have a potential role. And any security-challenged, cost-constrained, competitive-advantage-seeking IT manager in 2003 who isn't looking for a good way to get informed on the potential value and pitfalls of emerging technologies like wireless and cellular networking, biometrics and Linux probably needs Comdex more than he or she knows.

To summarize my previous suggestions, there are three important ways Key3Media can keep a good thing going:

None of this will be easy. Complicating matters is the announcement by Sheldon Adelson, the founder and original CEO of Comdex, that he will run a competing show across town during Comdex week. By attracting more exhibitors and attendees than either could alone, the two shows could accidentally make critical mass easier to reach. Or the double registration fees and round-town confusion could drive everyone away - do you think either company will hire shuttle buses to transport their attendees to the other's show?

Adelson's move means that Key3Media is not totally in charge of their own destiny. But the folks at Key3Media can take actions that will go a long way toward assuring the long-term survival of their show. And in spite of the high prices, the crowds, the noise and Key3Media's past arrogance, it's a show worth saving.